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Krys's Travel log

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Welcome to my travel log! You will find here a lot more than in the travel reports, stripped from political correctness. Enjoy!

Log entries 161 - 170 of 1158 Page: 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Jun 24, 2011 04:00 PM Budapest (HU) - all day on foot

Budapest (HU) - all day on foot It all came, almost screaming, back to me, as soon as I stepped onto the pedestrianised bit of Belgrad rakpart riverfront. Even though it has been 12 years since my last visit to Budapest. I immediately remembered the statues, the places to eat and drink. And when I found myself on the main shopping avenue, the Váci utsa, I recognised my steps from the past. Although a few places changed ownership and are no longer what they were. For example, the Burger King at the end of the street, just opposite the Main Market Hall, one was a fabulous pub, which offered free ground nuts, shells of which were being thrown on the floor, creating something very special.

I walked over to a new CET 'Whale' Building (in Hungarian it is cet means whale), which was not there back in 1999. It looked great. I definitely looked like a massive glass whale climbing on the top of two small red brick houses. Very clever idea. The area was still under construction, so there was no access. But when it is finished, it will be another great riverfront spot in the city.

At the Vörösmarty tér, where Váci utsa starts, I stopped at the Budapest Átrium Café for late lunch. I had time. Buda, the next stop on the itinerary, was in the west, so the setting sun was going to create perfect lighting conditions to photograph Pest from there. I had a very spicy pizza (not Hungarian, I know - and not healthy!) and put it out with almost a pint of Hungarian lager called Borsodi.

I rediscovered Buda, I have to say. I knew the citadel, of course, and the Liberty Monument and the flamboyant St Gellért Statue. And the Fishermen's Bastion. But I do not think that I had ever ventured to the UNESCO-listed Buda Castle. And I did not remember the photogenic little alleys of Buda, either. It was good to find them. I lingered for two pints of lager on the top of the Fishermen's Bastion watching the sun lowering its position in the sky and snapping the incredible Parliament building from above, and admiring that Budapest managed to resist any glass-and-steel super high-rise development. Interesting. Although, it is mainly Warsaw that joined London and Paris (and Berlin to a limited extent) as the few European capitals agreeing to small clusters of skyscrapers. Moscow has some as well, and other capitals have either one (e.g. Pristina, Sarajevo, Barcelona) or none - since their glass-and-steel structures are not tall enough.

Anyway, I rode on the fenicular down from the castle to the Chain Bridge, walked over to Pest and the St. Stephen's Basilica, the incredible  Szabadság tér square lined with the capital's grandest palaces, some of which, sadly, are in a desperate need of repair. I ended in my hotel, so I could benefit from free drink at the Executive Lounge.

Jun 23, 2011 04:00 PM Budapest (HU) - it's been 12 years

Budapest (HU) - it's been 12 years And so, I am in Budapest again. It has been 12 years exactly since my last visit. Then, I stayed at a simple, fabulously prison-like, citadel in Buda. This time, I am staying at the five star Hilton West End in Pest. Quite the opposite!

The flight was short but it seemed that the captain flew much lower than normal. And skimming the edge of clouds, which resulted in slight turbulence throughout the trip, with a particularly unpleasant approach to landing. Anyway, my hotel pick-up was waiting and had my name spelled correctly. The trip downtown took about half an hour. At the hotel lobby I was instructed to go directly to the Executive Floor and to the Exec Lounge, where they were ready to check me in. Complementary dinner was being served in the lounge as well, so it was a rather perfect timing for me to arrive.

In the room, a perfectly chilled bottle of Hungaria sparkling wine and pieces of fresh fruit were waiting, courtesy of the Hilton Management Team. Nice touch indeed.

After dinner, when the sun disappeared behind the hills of Buda, and the most prominent sights of the city were lit up, I went on a short stroll to the Parliament, the Chain Bridge and the Danube banks in Buda. The Parliament square was fixed with a photography exhibit displaying curious shots mostly of rural places in Hungary, I guess. But the elaborate facade of the parliament building, the third largest parliament building in the world, was very poorly lit up. Only the dome had a good portion of light placed on it. The Buda end of the Chain Bridge saw a stage with dance groups and other performers. I was not sure what this was for. The beautifully lit up bridge, which was also closed for traffic, had Hungarian and Chinese flags placed on both sides of the chains. So perhaps the show had something to do with China and Hungary. Thousands of people crowded the bridge and the Clark A. Ter square, at the foot of the UNESCO-listed Buda Castle.

After having taken a few snaps, the Hungarian sparkling wine waiting in my room popped up. The bubbly was not too bad at all. For it was extra-dry, the way I like it.

Jun 07, 2011 04:00 PM Which travel report next?

Which travel report next? I have a number of unfinished travel reports in the buffer. Some are more complete than others. There should be a logic for finishing and publishing them in order. Yet, there is more than one way of skinning this cat. ;)

So, I would like to give the Globies a chance to vote, which of the following reports, they would like me to finish and publish first. In the meantime, I am planning three short weekend trips, which out of the excitement might take priority ahead of those below, but otherwise, I will try to comply with the result of the vote.

Berlin - Germany
Bruxelles/Brussels - Belgium
Kerkyra (Corfu) - Greece
Skopje - Macedonia
Novi Sad - Serbia
Nexo - Denmark
Nicosia - Cyprus
Paphos - Cyprus

If I do not receive enough votes, I will just publish the reports in some random order.

May 29, 2011 04:00 PM Targu Mures - 50% Romanian, 50% Hungarian

Targu Mures - 50% Romanian, 50% Hungarian I got bitten. Different kind of blood suckers got me, though. The mosquitoes!

Anyway, after breakfast, I set out to Targu Mures, a city in Romania, where almost 50% of inhabitants are Hungarian. Actually, both Romanian and Hungarian are official languages there. First, I had to find the bus station in Sighisoara. I took two takes to find it. I thought it was nearer, but never mind. It was located, or should I say hidden, behind the train station. Departures to Targu Mures were frequent, with some 20 or more departures a day. Yet, although I expected a bus or a coach to take me on the 55kms journey, it was in fact a minibus. It was, however, modern and relatively comfortable. A couple of seats were free throughout the journey and I had a travel companion only for half of the trip. It took one hour exactly to reach Targu Mures. Not bad for a RON10 fare (€2.40).

I got off at the centre, and did some hiking towards my hotel. It was a relatively nice stroll, along the main street of the city. I passed the new Townhall, the old Townhall, the Palace of Culture, tower of an old Grey Friars' Church demolished by the communists in 1971, a large Ascension of the Lord Orthodox Cathedral, and the St. John the Baptist church without realising that it was 90% of all sights in the city!

I checked in my hotel, snoozed for a while and went on the discovering of the fortress, also known as the citadel. It was not far. Maybe about 3 minutes walking. I examined the outside walls first, taking a few shots of the bastions. I passed the grand building of the university and found the fortress's entrance. And then, I got so disappointed! The interior of the citadel was a complete mess! I could not believe it. It was so disorganised, rubbish discarded everywhere, some terribly unattractive modern buildings inside, some of which housed public toilets, an ugly temporary stage, some building materials. Awful. Access to the fortified church within the citadel was disallowed! Seriously, I think the authorities need to re-do the entire thing! I tried to take some photos avoiding the mess, but I not sure if that worked.

Utterly disappointed I descended to the main drag looking for a place to scoff some late lunch. I walked both sides of the avenue twice, checked a few side streets (found a very nice building of the Theological University dating back to 1500s), but nothing hit me, apart from a very decent looking Chinese restaurant, which was not opening until 19:00 hours! So, I sat down at the Leo Restaurant, which was relatively busy and had tables on the pavement. That was very important, because when I visited, I was allowed to smoke in public spaces, including restaurants in Romania! I liked the spot, but I was not happy with my meal.

Anyway, I snoozed and killed time after this, trying to find out a post office so I could send those postcards I had written in Sighisoara the day before. Instead, I found the flamboyant synagogue. I could not find the pos office because its facade was completely covered with scaffolding and canopy. 

Then, the sun began to descend behind the horizon, so time came to do some evening photography. I went to the site of the old Townhall and the citadel. I did not take too many shots, before I went out at the Hypnosis Cafe and the Boutique Club.

May 28, 2011 04:00 PM Sighisoara (Schäßburg) - Transylvania's little gem

Sighisoara (Schäßburg) - Transylvania's little gem quickly checked my neck for bites, as soon as I woke up. There were no marks. I was alright. No vampire visited me while I was asleep. I'm definitely not as pretty as Winona Ryder, and much less pretty as I used to be some 15 years ago, therefore I would not make an attractive target for vampires.

The day was again nice and bright. More clouds appeared in the sky than yesterday, obscuring the sun rays occasionally. The air warmed up to about 25C and it was great for walking about the town. I went for some wandering about the upper old town, walking along the walls and ramparts, climbing the incredible Clock Tower (Turnul cu Ceas), having skimmed through the modest expositions of the Historical Museum located inside, climbed the old Scara covered stairway to the church hill, snapping photographs, soaking up the atmosphere oozing with medieval hints and an incredible magnetism. The narrow cobble-stoned alleys, the colourful little houses with red and brown roof tiles, the mighty, fairytale-looking (or horror-looking) grey towers and gates created a fantastic ambiance.

In the afternoon, when the sun lowered its position in the sky, I went to see a couple of fortified churches of Transylvania, listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. One was the spectacular Biertan with multiple watch towers. The other was the smaller but older and more atmospheric Mālâncrav, with amazing sacral decorations and frescoes inside. They were located some 30km from Sighisoara. The villages and little towns, which Inpassed and those, where the churches were, were very photogenic themselves. The houses were painted in vivid colours, and many of the houses did not stand parallel to the road, but on a slight angle. I thought that was special. There was no convenient public transport. I took a taxi, organised by the owner of the pension at which I was staying - the Pension am Schneiderturm. It cost me RON120 (€29) for 2.5 hours of sightseeing and driving through the magnificent countryside. There were other significant fortified churches, legacy of the Saxons' residence in Transylvania: Velt, Bagaciu, Curciu, Darlos, Bazna, Seica Mica, Axente Server, Agarbiciu, Slimnic, Valea Viilor, Ighisu Nou, Mosna, Alma Vii, Buzd, Brateiu, Atel, Copsa Mare, Valchid, Altana, Hosman, Carta, Veseud, Cincu, Merghindeal, Dealu Frumos, Stejarisu, Iacobeni, Movile, Bradeni, Apold, Daia, Saschiz, Archita, Darjiu, Homorod, and Viscri. To see them all, one would need own vehicle, ideally, and a couple of days.

Upon the return to Sighisoara, I sat at the house, where [allegedly] Vlad Tepes Dracul prince of Vallachia (Dracula) was born, and had a couple of dark ales called Silva.I wonder if dark beer or red ale called Vlad or Dracula would sell well in Transylvania. I heard that some of the Transylvanians were not very happy that their hero prince was converted into a monster vampire, though. Yet again in Sighisoara, there were a good number of vampire-themed souvenirs. However frowned upon, whatever mattered that they sold well. I would have bought some if they were good quality...

May 27, 2011 04:00 PM Hawthorn stakes and garlic packed!

Hawthorn stakes and garlic packed! This is my second trip to Transylvania. Last time, about six years ago, I did not make it to Sighisoara and Tirgu Mures. Sighisoara is said to be amongst the most spectacular little medieval towns in Transylvania, a region made famous by vampires. Romanians, or should I say Transylvanians, do believe in vampires and occasionally, there are cases of graves being raided and bodies being stubbed with stakes made of hawthorn wood.

Today, Sighisoara is a major tourist attraction mainly for its attractiveness, scenery and, of course, the souvenirs associated with Dracula. Although it is argued that the prince has never actually lived in the town. Whether he has never operated in the town, or fed for that matter, is a different question... ;)

May 07, 2011 04:00 PM Helsinki (FI) - hanging out in the city

Helsinki (FI) - hanging out in the city Very late start of the day. When I rolled off the bed, it was afternoon. A quick visit to the Senate Square and the Market Square and the stroll in the old town, and I thought there was time for lunch. Having had Finnish food the day before, I knew I was allowed Thai. Yet, on Sundays, the Thai place I wanted to invade was closed until the evening. Pity. I lingered therefore in the old town, hopping from one pavement tavern to another, from one beer garden to another, from one wine bar to another. All to absorb the northern sun rays and kill time before my 18:00 city bus departure to the airport.

I relaxed at the SAS Business Lounge, read some outrageous articles in the Daily Mail (they didn't have any real papers in the lounge), had some Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wine with cheese and crackers, and checked emails. It was a silent lounge, so no flight announcements. The screen was not showing any status for my flight, and all over sudden a message 'last call' appeared! I had to drop everything and head it for the gate. I definitely told the off about the screens. They cannot show nothing for two hours, nothing, not even 'wait in lounge'; 'go to gate'; 'boarding'; and then put a message that there was a last call! I was so cross that I might write a letter of complain as they caused me unnecessary stress. And stress kills 100,000,000 people a year!

May 06, 2011 04:00 PM Helsinki (FI) - sea fortress, a great place indeed

Helsinki (FI) - sea fortress, a great place indeed An early start. By 08:00am, I was photographing the lovely Senate Square, complete with a snow-white cathedral, a monument to Alexander II, and flanked with a couple of St.Petersburg-style palaces. I think it was the first time that I saw bells' huts on two minor sides of a cathedral (the western and the eastern, while they should be located at the western and northern sides), since the main altar was located in the eastern end of the temple.

Then, I went to check the Uspensky Cathedral, a red brick Russian orthodox church compete with 13 small golden cupolas. It was an interesting structure, but I thought it was over-advertised. Its interior might have been more impressive than the outside (in contrast to the aforementioned Lutheran Cathedral). I found many Russians visiting the church, who were very moved by the whole thing.

I stepped on a small ferry and went to see Europe's largest sea fortress - the Suomenlinna. It is actually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is worth it. The size of it is impressive, and overall it is a very pleasant place. It has parks, ramparts to walk on, beaches, bunkers, barracks, mansions, gates, walls, bastions and a number of very impressive cannons. The ferry took only about 15 minutes from the Market Square in front of the Townhall. There was a ferry every 15 minutes during the day, but not early in the morning and not late at night (running well over midnight!). I took many photos there, including the households of the regular c.900 inhabitants of the islands.

The rest of the day was for strolling. I checked the incredibly lively seafront Market, right outside the Townhall, with many impromptu cafes and patisseries, ice-cream shops, produce stands, bakeries, art stands, household item sellers, etc - all of which were completely gone by the early afternoon. Literally! All the cafe tables and chairs, stands and bakeries were gone and the cobblestones where they stood were washed by city utility vehicles.

I went to check the Olympic Stadium, and a few other sights in the city, before descending back to the centre for some scoff.

Then, I had a break at the Executive Lounge, a lie-in in the bed, and a night out in the town.

May 05, 2011 04:00 PM Helsinki (FI) - First time in Finland

Helsinki (FI) - First time in Finland Landing. The flight was short - only about 1h35'. And on time. The Helsinki airport in the Schengen area allowed the arriving passengers to mingle with the ones departing, and through the regular shopping and bar areas. The arrival hall, where the loved ones wait was surprisingly small, however, considering that Helsinki is a hub, a plane-changeover airport, many just pass through it never end up leaving the airport, the size of it might be appropriate.

I spotted a desk with big letters stating 'Airport Taxi - €27'. Having read that a regular cab would cost me €45, I decided to take this one instead. What a mistake! The price was €27 if one or two people travelled in the vehicle. If more passengers hired the taxi, the price was increasing. But I have to wait almost 20 minutes for he car, there were already people in it (three people to be exact), who were put down first, so my ride to the hotel was almost an hour! And I was charged €27, as if I was alone in the car! Considering that a regular city bus takes only 35 minutes to reach the centre costing €4, I had a reason to be somewhat discontent, to put it lightly.

The sun was still up, when I sat comfortably in the Executive Lounge at the 7th floor of the Hilton Helsinki Strand Hotel overlooking a small harbour. I had two glasses of LBV port and went for a stroll. I was not quite sure whether I wanted to go out or not. I did have a full day of work that they and a busy night the night before, so I returned to hotel within not long and decided to get up early for good photographing light.

May 01, 2011 04:00 PM Montreal (CA-QC) - the second arrival, and the departure

Montreal (CA-QC) - the second arrival, and the departure In the morning, Montreal enjoyed a chilly but dry weather with frequent sunny spells. Then, about noon, it became unpredictable. Brief showers were disrupted with shy sunny spells. More like London weather, actually.

I took a trip in the Old Montreal in the first place. I expected much less than I saw, but having seen Quebec City the day before, I was underwhelmed with some of the streets and alleys. Also, I was very unfortunate to discover that the prime square of the old town, the Place d'Armes was completely dug up. It was impossible to enjoy even a partial view of the great Notre-Same church; and also the Town Hall was covered in scaffolding! I thought it was just a bit too much. I am not planning to go back to Montreal again, and there it was - the inability to enjoy it the only time I was here. Yet, it was a good morning stroll along a couple of cobble-stoned alleys, examining some of the more interesting colonial buildings.

I lingered for a while at the Old Port of Montreal, parts of which still required much redevelopment and I was certain that the spring cleaning was still due to be done. Perhaps slightly overdue, but snow was still persisting in a few spots around the city, so I guessed the spring must have just come to Quebec.

Across the river, the intriguing and large Biosphere was clearly visible. I was hoping that there would be water taxis or public boats ferrying people across, as I intended to get closer to the sphere, but there were not any. It was a pity. So, I lingered in the Quay Park watching Canadian Geese splashing about and fighting a little. They made a few waves, which I tried to capture on camera, but I did not have that much patience. I strolled a little more in the old town and ventured to the tiny Chinatown, which was abundant with Chinese people, as if they suddenly appeared out of nowhere. They were nit present in the side streets at all. Almost as if they really tried very hard not to venture outside their district. I found that a bit amazing.

Weather got worse, so I cancelled my other plans regarding the visit, got to the hotel and rested my feet. I watched the news about the death of Osama bin Laden in the Executive Lounge, had a latte and Canada Dry Ginger Ale. The hotel provided cookies. 

Soon time came to get ready for my departure. I packed up, hailed a taxi and went to the airport. That was the end of this weekend holiday.

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